New York:From their front-row seats in a private box, Sandy Sadler and her friends scanned Arthur Ashe Stadium and plotted a return visit.
Only next year, maybe they'll do more than merely watch Venus Williams, Roger Federer and the rest of the pros. Instead, they might pack their rackets and come play like a Sharapova.
Because here's a fun fact about the US Open: All 45 courts at the National Tennis Center are public.
"I think that most people would be surprised to find that out," said Williams, a two-time US.Open champion. "You mean I could've had my graduation party here?"
Be it a corporate bash or just a couple of buddies who want to bang around some balls, the US Open courts really are wide open.
"Why don't we do that for my birthday?" Sadler said. "I have chill bumps, just thinking about it."
For $16 an hour by day - $24 at night, plus a flat $8 fee for the lights - the outer courts are available. As in Court No 11, where former US Open runner-up Elena Dementieva played this week.
It's $2,500 for an outing at center court in Ashe. To four-time major champion Jim Courier, that's a bargain.
"You couldn't get Madison Square Garden for $2,500," he said. "But if you don't want to spend much, imagine what you can do.
"Pay $2 for the subway..., play here for an hour, then go home. For $20, you can say you played on a court where they held a Grand Slam. Not a bad day."
Not possible at Wimbledon or Roland Garros, either, where it's members only.
At Melbourne Park, home of the Australian Open, the show courts are public and run about $25 per hour; for those a bit more ambitious and a lot richer, Rod Laver Arena goes for around $8,200 a day.
The closest example in golf is out on Long Island, where the 2002 US Open was held at Bethpage Black. Hackers often sleep overnight in their cars, hoping to get tee times.
Pebble Beach and Pinehurst are resort courses. That means they're open, too, though they cost more than a couple hundred dollars per round.
Hardly that pricey at Flushing Meadows.
"I think I'd do it, just to say I did," Allan Klein said from the bleachers as he watched Dementieva warm up. "Sure, why not?"
Telephone reservations are recommended because availability is tight, even with the courts open 11 months a year from 6 am to midnight. There are clinics, including one each year for 1,000 schoolkids from New York City's borough Brooklyn, and colleges and prep schools practice there.